Two weeks ago, I attended a conference in Washington DC for hunger leaders in America. I participated with the Arizona delegation — and by delegation I mean me and one other person. We represented Arizona’s voice for the upcoming funding of the Farm Bill, among other things. We met with our state representatives’ staff members and discussed hunger in our state.
Until one year ago, I rolled my eyes when I’d hear public health workers discuss hunger in America. Hunger? Hunger in a country where 65% of the general population is significantly overweight? “Ha! As if!” I thought, ignorantly.
Research shows poverty leads to obesity in the United States. Go figure. Cheap food is bad food. You can get a Burger King Whopper for $2 in most US cities. A salad at any fast food restaurant will cost you at least $4. Eating healthy isn’t inexpensive — this I know. As a single person, who has recently been eating a vegetarian diet and thereby not purchasing expensive meats — I still spend on average $45 on groceries a week. This does not include my morning $4 habit at the bagel shop, my Friday night happy hour with friends, or any weekend eating, which probably adds at least an additional $50 to my weekly food total.
There are 35 million Americans who are currently hungry — skipping at least one meal a day because they do not have enough resources. Many of these people are children and the elderly. But there is a wide swath of Americans who are living in poverty — working minimum wage jobs and barely getting by — who simply cannot afford to eat healthy foods. In Arizona, if you are a single person making less than $16,000 per year, you qualify for the food stamp program. {This is a misnomer. The stamps have long since been replaced by a debit card that reboots each month.} For a family of 4, the limit to qualify for food stamps is $26,000. You must be a citizen to qualify. There are other limitations. With all this in mind, there are 800,000 Arizonans who are living in “hunger.”
We are a state of just 4 million people and 800,000 are not getting enough to eat! That is shocking to me. We are not a poor state, even though there are certainly pockets. We are a booming state — one whose population is going gangbusters and whose real estate market has helped keep the economy afloat during the last five years. It was absolutely shocking to me there are so many people in my own community who are not getting enough to eat.

In turn, I’m conducting an experiment of sorts. This week, I’m living on a food stamp budget. As a single person, I qualify for about $25 per week in groceries. Food stamps can be used solely for food or garden seeds; no toiletries, or other necessities can be purchased with this card. This all equates to about $1.25 per meal. I have just returned from the grocery and more than ever I understand why the poor are often those who suffer from ill health. This week isn’t going to be pretty, but it certainly is going to be eye opening. And I have a feeling it is going to be a great way to shed any Thanksgiving weight gain.